School effectiveness and school improvement can have different meanings and implications in different contexts. Pakistan is challenged by material constraints such as well-constructed and well-furnished school buildings and classrooms, resources, well- designed curriculum, teachers' experience and a manageable class size. And non material factors such as lack of vision and goals, a learning environment, professional leadership and pupil rights and responsibilities. These factors being inadequate are affecting school effectiveness. Pakistan has a tremendous diversity of language, culture, tradition and ethnicity, which play a major role in the lives of the people. Cultural tenets and tribal codes produce a conservative environment, specially affecting female education. Female seclusion and gender segregation and other similar factors particularly in some areas of Pakistan influence education in general and schools in particular in terms of their effectiveness.

Another problem that seems to have deepened the issue of school effectiveness in Pakistan, as Memon (1991) has pointed out, has been a narrow research base. However, it is heartening to note that some research papers have come out recently as a result of conferences held by institutions.

Research carried out in the developing countries by agencies such as the World Bank (1988, 1990) have identified various factors which contribute to school effectiveness and school improvement like material inputs; teacher quality; implementation strategies; and gender education. Here I will focus on a few important factors only -- resources and basic inputs, curriculum and textbooks, teacher effectiveness, and equity.

Basic inputs

Inadequate resources in Pakistan play a crucial role in rendering schools less effective. Schools lack the basic resources required such as buildings, furniture, drinking water, latrines, instructional materials, and qualified teachers necessary for them to function as learning institutions.

Pakistan is under-investing in education (two per cent of GDP, Education Policy, 1998-2010) which is amongst the lowest against the four per cent recommended by Unicef (Lall, 2008).

On the other hand, rapid population growth at the rate of 3.1 per cent per annum renders these little resources even scarce. The education system does not provide access to all the school-age population of the country. Saleem (1995) had estimated that the number of children to be left out of school by the end of the century would increase to 20 million resulting in a high rate of illiteracy.

According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan (2004-05), it has 64 per cent literacy (39 per cent female, 64 per cent male). Female literacy in some rural areas is as little as eight per cent. The alarming situation is that 40 per cent of school-age children do not have access to education. Fifty per cent of the total enrolled children of primary level drop out before completing five years of education.

Pakistan has been struggling for promotion of literacy for the last six decades, but is consistently swamped by the population growth, poverty, health, and socio-cultural practices. Five Year Plans and National Education Policies (1970; 1972-80; 1979; 1992-2000; 1998-2010) being ambitious, have rhetorically claimed to eradicate illiteracy but the situation has improved only timidly due to lack of will and resources and lowest investment of GNP on education amongst other reasons (Warwick and Reimers, 1995; National Education Policy, 1992). The scarcity of resources have a direct bearing on access, equity, enrolment demands, need for new school buildings, school management system, students achievement, and other material and non-material inputs, which are considered necessary for improved students' learning (Lockheed et al, 1991) and thus affect effectiveness in schools.

Even the government's sincere efforts cannot solve the problems alone. Resources need to be generated involving communities, parents, NGOs, private sector and donor agencies.

Progress in education within the tight resource constraints may take place with careful investment on those aspects which raise pupil achievement. To improve the situation the government, parents, communities and civil society as a whole need to take action.

The government needs to provide access to schools, competent teachers and effective learning materials. Achievement of Universal Primary Education (UPE) needs to be given top priority with necessary financial resources. Legislation forbidding child labour also needs to be strictly enforced and mosque schools need to be used effectively to provide informal basic education. Media may play its due role in creating awareness and importance of basic education in rural and tribal areas.

Curriculum and textbooks

The curricula in Pakistan are poor in terms of both scope and sequence. It lacks relevance to students' life and is inappropriate for a bi-lingual system. Researches in Pakistan emphasise the importance of using the local language as the medium of instruction (Bude, 1989).

Government efforts to revise the curriculum (2002 and 2006) are commendable efforts, but what needs to be done is to help the teachers engage with it meaningfully and be able to translate the aims, objectives and contents in attainable learning objectives. The Ed-Links programme since the last couple of years is making efforts in this direction with the help of the Aga Khan University.

The curriculum and textbooks in Pakistan seem to have been driven more by experts and subject specialists with very little input from practising teachers and local administrators. Hence they are done more in a scholarly way suggesting what children should learn rather than what they can learn. Textbooks do not seem to be keeping pace with the time, considering children's experiences and age level. Teachers thus resort to encourage rote learning methods rather than developing children's understanding and thinking. This leads to ineffective teaching and learning resulting in failure and repeating the class. New imaginative, relevant to age level yet challenging textbooks need to be developed in line with the recent curriculum documents and national education policy as well as educational research on teaching and learning, and information and communication technology.

Teacher effectiveness

Teachers play a crucial role in making schools effective. The personal and professional development of teachers has a direct impact on student achievement. However, the quality of teacher training is scarce and obsolete rendering it ineffective for classroom teaching.

Pakistan's first Five Year Plan (1955-1960) claimed to reduce the number of untrained teachers in primary and secondary schools and to improve the quality of training by the end of the Plan period (p.51).

Ironically, today, the situation has not much improved in relation to the quality of training. Various researches suggest that the poor performances of teacher training programmes are due to reasons such as

* Base education and duration of training both are insufficient. Pakistan needs to increase basic education requirement from 10 years and duration of training by more than one year to raise effectiveness.

* Curriculum of teacher training seems to have been regarded as out-dated with little relevance to practical problems that the teachers face (Farooq, 1996). Various researches reveal that the existing teacher training programmes in Pakistan have not improved in the content knowledge and practice of teaching. (Kalmthout and o'Grady, 1992; Qureshi, Bridges study, 1990; Warwick and Reimers, 1991; Ali, 1998).

* Status of teaching profession in Pakistan is low (see Halai, 2007). Teachers are under paid and usually do not have a promising career ladder. Thus it fails to attract the best talents.

However it cannot be concluded that teacher training has no effect. Careful planning and implementation of the programme effects and influences teachers. Vespoor's (1989) report based on 21 cases from developing countries identified the following features as important for success of teacher training programmes provision of locally available in-service teacher training, effective supervision and support, and encouragement of teacher motivation and commitment.


Education of girls in many developing countries has been a top priority due to the high dropout rate compared to boys. Factors identified by various studies are lack of separate schools for girls, lack of qualified female teachers, poverty, socio-cultural bias against female education, and lack of interest by parents in educating their daughters, school distance from home (Ashraf, 2008).

In relation to access, equity and quality of female education in Pakistan, gender bias and disfavouring women exist at the level of the policy planners to the man on the street. Disparity in educational opportunities is the result of factors such as geographical, socio-cultural, socio-economic, customs and local traditions, lack of school facilities and proper environment and lack of trained female teachers.

A survey conducted in 10 districts by the Planning and Development Division, Government of Pakistan, found 29 per cent of the population hostile to female education, while 30 per cent were indifferent. Only 10 per cent of the population was really anxious for female education (Razia Abbas, 1993).

Cultural and social barriers for girls to access education are due to

* High illiteracy among parents who do not realise the importance of education for girls. * Thinking of some religious leaders may lead to develop attitudes against female education.
* Poverty leads parents to prefer boys for schooling than girls.
* Women have low status in some tribal societies. They are regarded as less intelligent; responsible for housework and serving the men-folk of the family.
* Early marriage is very common, therefore, girls are prepared for housekeeping rather than for school education.
* Distance of schools from home makes parents reluctant to send their daughters.
* Non-availability of female teachers in rural schools (parents hesitate to have their daughters educated by male teachers).
* Shortage of girl's schools is also a problem.

These barriers to female education are deeply rooted in centuries-old customs but times are changing now. Schools can play a major role in educating parents and others to understand the importance of education for girls. Schools in Pakistan would be regarded effective if they can bring attitudinal change by adopting effective measures such as

* Increased communication between school and community for raising awareness among conservative parents.
* Representation of community's influential people (mosque imam) on local school boards.
* Use of media to promote the importance of education.
* Flexible school hours to accommodate local needs and conditions.
* Lessening financial burden on parents by providing incentives such as scholarships, books, uniforms and meals.

In conclusion, it can be said that a lot needs to be done if Pakistan is serious in improving its education and wishes to make schools effective. This includes addressing the issues of resources, access and enrolment; preparing heads for pedagogical and transformational leadership; bringing attitudinal change in parents, tribal leaders and other conservative elements regarding female education and providing learning environment for teachers and students to promote learning.

The writer is an educational consultant.



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